After a critical examination of current classification arrangements it is considered that the current streamlined structure is still fit for purpose and highly relevant for the future APS. However, there is a strong call for investment in updated policy guidance, user friendly classification tools and the provision of ongoing central support.
The devolution of classification management is to a level where significant investment would be required to make further structural change. In the absence of any significant cost benefit in proceeding with such change, fundamental changes to the classification structure at this stage may not be warranted.
Throughout this examination five key themes have emerged where some attention will produce significant return and reinvest in the core elements of the APS classification system.
Key to APS classification arrangements is the central eight level, non-SES classification structure. The evidence suggests the current APS classification structure is sound. Yet there is a need for deeper support and guidance as the structure may be applied inconsistently, impacting the principle of work value.
APS classification arrangements will better support the objectives identified by the Blueprint if classification levels are perceived as reflecting equivalent work value within and between APS agencies. This depends largely on ensuring jobs are classified on a common basis using work value.
The development of a common set of principles for classification management will help with consistency while maintaining the devolution of authority. In addition, it will provide support to other elements of the human capital framework such as performance management. Classification principles will provide the APS with a common language to identify and compare roles across organisations and job types. This ultimately supports mobility and the concept of One APS.
Agency-specific and occupational specific classifications make it more difficult for employees and agencies to identify and articulate the common elements of APS jobs, thereby inhibiting movement of employees within the APS. They also do not appear to confer any organisational benefit which could not be achieved through the use of local job titles. In the absence of any clear rationale for their retention, some agency-specific and occupational specific classifications could be phased-out of the Classification Rules, recognising that for changes to occur there needs to be agreement by agencies.
Achieving greater consistency across the APS in classifying positions and improving work equity depends on having an agreed set of work value descriptors. Balancing this is the need to ensure that any benefits provided from this are not outweighed by an increase in ‘red tape’. The need for classification tools that are easy to use, applicable to the intended audience and relevant for the wider business was continually evident throughout agency consultations.
The review identified evidence of a change in the classification profile over time mainly due to the changing nature of APS work and the environment in which it is undertaken. Yet agency consultation, at all levels, indicated a lack of rigour in classification management practices particularly where there is no formal classification methodology in place. Comments indicated this may also have contributed to the upwards change in the APS profile. Investigation of methods used in agencies to classify jobs identified eight different approaches.
It was evident from the consultations that not all agencies have WLS in place (as required by the Classification Rules). Where in place, WLS are not always consistent with some using capability descriptors such as the ILS while others are outdated. In addition, in a work environment that is dynamic and changing there is no requirement in the Classification Rules for WLS to be reviewed or validated against a common benchmark.
The development of APS-wide WLS (that can be adapted for agency requirements) would provide a consistent platform for the classification of positions. Agencies would have the option of using the APS-wide WLS. However where they choose not to, agency specific standards would need to be calibrated against the APS-wide WLS.
In developing APS-wide WLS, attention would be given to defining clear work value distinctions between APS and EL classifications. For example, the work value of an EL 1 compared an APS 6 role involves a distinct increase in complexity, management, judgment and accountability.
There is also the need to account for the diverse work undertaken in the APS. The APS Job Family Framework has identified 16 Job Families for the APS. APS-wide WLS will need to articulate work value in a way that is meaningful across a range of specialisations. Some of the larger agencies already have WLS models that have achieved this, and in doing so have demonstrated that jobs with a high level of specialist complexity can be accorded a work value weighting (and hence classification level) equivalent to roles with a broader managerial focus.
APS-wide WLS should also account for training classifications. These should reflect the learning and development which takes place over the course of a training program and will differ from the classifications assigned once the training period has been completed.
Some agencies have recently invested in updating or creating WLS while others are in the process of doing so. There is an opportunity available now to recognise and leverage from this work for the broader APS.
There is clear evidence from consultations that the process of job evaluation against classification standards is insufficiently supported across the APS. A sample of agencies highlighted only 9% use a formal job evaluation tool. In addition, when a new role is created 38% of agencies indicated that they do not undertake a documented process to determine the appropriate classification. To complement APS-wide WLS a role evaluation tool to support agencies in evaluating jobs should be developed.
A number of agencies currently rely on external providers to undertake job evaluation work (19%). These providers apply their methodology which is often not tailored to the unique requirements of the APS. In addition, this approach is costly and would rarely result in skills transfer from the consultants to the staff of the agency.
Agencies should be supported in role evaluation using a robust methodology that is fully consistent with APS classification principles. This role evaluation approach should then be applied whenever a new job is created or an existing job significantly changes.
Agencies indicated a requirement to develop more expertise in job evaluation, especially for complex and sensitive roles, where it is more common to use external providers. Developing a cadre of trained role evaluators across the APS, that could share their expertise across agencies, would provide a mechanism for independent assessment of these complex and/or sensitive job roles. It would provide an option for small agencies which can struggle to maintain job evaluation capability whilst delivering savings across the APS in external provider fees.
The devolution of classification decision making without supporting guidance can lead to inconsistent classification outcomes. Ultimately this impacts other human capital areas and can drive up agency operating costs.
The evidence gathered suggests that the Classification Rules and the principles behind them are not well understood. In addition, policy guidance is somewhat dated and has not kept pace with the changing needs of agencies. The APS Advice 02 of 1998 and the 1992 classification guide remain the key references for interpreting the classification framework, and little or no training is provided to classification decision makers.
With outdated policy guidance there is a risk that the longstanding principle that jobs are classified, not people, may not be consistently observed. Agencies report that in the absence of practical guidance the likelihood of roles being over-classified is considerably increased. Providing tools to help prevent this practice is seen as a benefit in reducing the upward pressure on salary budgets.
Line managers and HR staff with classification decision-making powers would be better supported by clear guidance and access to education. This is a fundamental gap in the current classification framework which would reasonably be expected to improve the consistency of classification decisions both within and across agencies.
It would be essential for any education tools to be provided in a flexible and accessible format where the content is updated to remain current. There is a need to moderate the overly technical language present in extant guidance with a ‘user friendly’ approach applicable to the broader business. The inclusion of better practice case studies from across the APS would also provide useful reference for agencies.
Whilst the data indicates a reduction in the use of lower classification levels across the APS (APS 1 and 2 classification levels have declined from 20% of the total non-SES workforce in 1996 to 3% in 2011), evidence from agencies suggests there is still a clear distinction between work value at the APS 1 and 2 classification levels.
Consultations suggested establishment of an APS wide broadband to reduce the number of lower classifications as an attraction mechanism. However, discussions with agencies that are actively using these classifications highlight that the potential cost of such an exercise may outweigh the benefits.
Instead there is a need to reinforce an APS-wide commitment to these classifications levels as important entry level points into the APS. Some large agencies are investing in ‘rediscovering’ the APS 1 and 2 classifications and others believe there would be benefit from sharing these experiences. Promoting greater use of these classification levels through inclusion of better practice case studies in the revised classification guide is seen as beneficial.
Flexibility and independence
For APS agencies the need to retain the degree of flexibility and independence in managing work design provided by the current classification system is paramount. Yet consultations revealed a strong desire for the APSC to develop improved policy guidance around areas such as broadbanding and managing classification arrangements.
Although there was support for retaining broadbanding as an element of the classification system, many senior managers highlighted problems associated with the introduction and management of broadbands, including higher costs if employee progression through the broadband is not managed closely.
Broadbanding avoids classification creating an artificial barrier to the performance of duties. As such broadbanding provides agencies with greater flexibility in adapting the classification structure to work requirements. The review team identified broadbanding is included in 76% of examined agency EAs. When analysing broadbands that are in place across the APS, it was clear that there are varied arrangements. Consultations indicated that the lack of clear rules, guidance or oversight of broadband arrangements is believed to lead to sub-optimal practices in relation to the application of the merit principle and employees performing work at the appropriate work value.
In addition, consultations highlighted the importance of retaining clear work value distinctions between the APS and EL classification levels. The review identified 29 broadbands across the APS that link the operational APS 1-6 classification levels with the EL classification levels. This would suggest the need for new broadbanding arrangements to minimise the use of EL classifications. Employees at this level have a substantially greater leadership role and are the main feeder group for the SES. There would therefore be value in ensuring that entry into EL classifications is subject to an open competitive assessment of the employee's capabilities relative to the work value requirements of an EL job.
The APS is best served by broadbanding when it is approached in a strategic way to address specific agency needs. It is most effective when it stems from the identification of one logical parcel of work spanning a number of classification levels within a particular functional group or job family.
The following extract from 1999 highlights the guidance provided to agencies on broadbanding when introduced:
“Broadbanding is an option agencies may wish to consider where a job (i.e. a group of duties) can reasonably be expected to encompass a work value span which relates to more than one classification (possibly subject to issues such as availability of work, the acquisition of competencies by employees and their standard of performance).” 3
To provide a consistent and robust mechanism which addresses some of the disadvantages associated with broadbands, there is a need to improve and clarify the supporting guidance. The guidance should include requirements to ensure advancement is contingent upon an appropriate assessment of work availability in addition to an employee capability assessment.
3 Advice No. 1999/19. Workplace Relations Advices. Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business.
APS training classifications cover Graduate APS, Cadet APS, Trainee APS and Apprentice APS classifications. Despite consistent comments throughout consultations that highlighted the ongoing commitment of agencies to maintain entry level training recruitment, training classifications receive inconsistent or minimal use.
It appears that across the APS the benefits and flexibilities associated with the use of training classifications are not well understood. Guidance supporting when and how to use training classifications is minimal and dates back to 1999.
In response to concerns raised in consultations the review took a sample of training classification arrangements. It would appear that to be market competitive, drivers other than work value are being used to assign operational classifications following training. In addition, there was concern that agencies may be missing opportunities for involvement in whole-of-government programs because their EA does not contain the appropriate training classification.
The APS would benefit from more guidance and support in the use of training classifications and the flexibilities available. This could include how to embed training classifications in future EAs and how to distinguish between training programs covered by the training classifications and those that are not.
Lastly, there was a question as to whether separate training classifications should be maintained at all given the number of training arrangements in place using only the main classification structure, often supported by a broadband. Despite the variation in place, maintaining the training classifications as a separate element of the Classification Rules is seen as worthwhile as it demonstrates the continued APS commitment to training and provides the basis for more consistency across the APS.
APS agencies consider the existing classification structure meets their needs. Creating occupational specific classifications, in addition to those already in place such as Medical Officer classifications, was seen to have adverse impacts on workforce flexibility, APS mobility arrangements, efficiency in administering the classification system, and perceptions of a united APS. The creation of additional specialist classifications was also not seen to address any potential misclassification driven by attraction and retention issues.
The existence of a generic classification structure does not prevent employees from specialising in occupation-based career paths, nor does it distract from the APS being a career-based public service. On the contrary, it more readily enables employees to have a diverse career should they choose.
Consultations did identify some pressure on agencies to recognise specialist occupations in the classification structure, driven by the need to provide recognition for specialist occupations through a classification solution, not necessarily due to the unique nature of the work. Recognition of specialist occupations in this light is best addressed in other ways. For example, demonstrating meaningful career paths and utilising specialist capability frameworks is an appropriate approach. The ICT capability framework demonstrates that specialist career paths can be accommodated without diminishing or detracting from a single flexible APS-wide classification structure.
The existing framework is sufficiently flexible for agencies to ensure candidates possess specialist skills or qualifications where these are considered necessary. In addition, attraction and retention of specialist occupations remains best supported by existing flexibilities, including with regard to remuneration, already afforded agency heads.
The APS would be better served by focusing on targeting the use of existing mechanisms and flexibilities to manage the attraction, recognition and retention of ‘specialist’ occupations. Consideration should be given in the first instance to a shared repository of information incorporating strategies and case studies for addressing pressures on occupational groups.
There is merit in investigating the feasibility of providing an APS wide approach to the use of locals titles, building on the work already completed with the APS Job Family Model.
There is considerable evidence that existing classification tools and guides are outdated, difficult to understand and not practical for today's APS. There is a desire for stronger guidance, consistent methodologies and practical help without additional ‘red tape’ that might impede agency independence.
Classification management prior to the 1990s was administered through a structured and controlled function. The number of delegates for the creation, abolition and re-classification of positions was limited and experienced HR staff applied job analysis and role evaluation methodologies that were developed centrally. Since the devolution of responsibility to agencies there has been limited oversight and inadequate current support to classification management may have contributed to inconsistent classification outcomes.
Placing greater emphasis on leadership driven classification arrangements with strengthened support mechanisms is a key requirement. This approach aims to maintain the flexibility for the operation of the workforce as currently afforded agencies yet retains the critical features that are necessary for a coherent APS.